Good Green Life

Affordability the selling point for energy-efficient homes

By Kelly Kennedy, For the Camera
May 23, 2004

Most of the people who live in Centerra Village in Loveland didn't buy their homes for the
recycled-paper insulation, the solar panels installed on the roofs to heat their water, or the
recycled pop-bottle decks.

They live there for the same reasons most people choose suburbia.

"We moved here because we can afford it," says Kim Bohling, who has lived in the
neighborhood for two years. "I'm close to the interstate, and there's shopping access. The
environmental center? I thought that was the sales office."

And that's the point.

Like crushed aspirin hidden in a spoonful of sugar, the environmental aspects of this
community come cached in cost-cutting, energy-efficient homes with hardwood floors and
maple cabinets. Rather than a selection of several shades of stone, the homes in Centerra
Village rise up in lemon yellow, raspberry sorbet and creamsicle orange. Residents play in 10
parks, walk the eight-mile trail system around Houts Reservoir and Equalizer Lake, and meet
the neighbors at community barbecues.

The developers, in this case McStain Neighborhoods of Boulder, lure the buyers in with
beautiful houses, and before the homeowners know it, they're thinking about energy
efficiency, recycled building materials and home durability. It's not just the homeowners —
Colorado developers also had to be convinced of the monetary and marketing merits of
building green.

They have been: Since 1995, builders have transformed Colorado into the state with the
highest number of green-certified homes in the nation with more than 20,000 documented.

"The dominant reasons for buying a home will always be location, price and floor plan," says
Kim Calomino, director of Built Green Colorado. "It's critical that we show homeowners the
benefits of a green home: increased energy efficiency, durability and reduced maintenance.
Water conservation is also a very big deal for everyone right now."

In 1995, several builders and developers from Boulder created Built Green Colorado to
encourage other builders and developers to use environmentally friendly building materials,
work toward energy-efficient homes and think about home durability. Built Green provides
guidelines, information and contacts as well as the "Built Green" certification, which Calomino
says enhances the value of the home. McStain Neighborhoods joined Built Green in 1995,
and has been a "very active" member, Calomino says.

Built Green is launching a new marketing campaign based on the idea that customers only
want green products if they have benefits other than those to the environment.

"It's a little bit flipped," Calomino says. "We realized we had to quit promoting homes as
green and tell people why it's a good-quality, well-built, well-designed home."

Centerra Village developers took the idea further by creating a nonprofit organization to take
care of the wetlands surrounding the development. The employees care for the land, provide
education about the area and help people in the community understand why green practices,
such as recycling and using solar panels, work.

The development was created in 2001, and is one of only a handful of developments in the
United States that incorporate nature sites, such as Prairie Crossing near Chicago and
Dewees Island in South Carolina. McStain Neighborhoods takes care of traditional tasks,
such as maintaining common areas and running the sales office.

But Centerra Village is also just off the main drag to Denver and situated within walking
distance of a shopping center with several restaurants, a grocery store and a Target. The idea
isn't to force people to change their ways, it's to educate and encourage them to think about
how their purchases and habits will affect the environment.

"Sometimes they know about these things, but it's just not in the forefront of their minds," says
Pat Waak, director of the nonprofit that runs Centerra Village. "Now they're living in a
community where it is in the forefront."

When residents move to Centerra, Environmental Center employees give them a goodie bag
that includes a magnet with a list of 10 things they can do to improve the environment, as well
as a presentation about energy conservation, Xeriscaping and protecting local wildlife.

Though Calomino says most Coloradans have a pretty good idea of what they want in a
home, they might not know that an energy-efficient home won't have a back bedroom that is
colder than the other rooms or that a porch made out of recycled pop bottles will last longer
than a wood porch.

"The homeowner wants to know, 'What do I get out of this?'" she says. "'How will this affect
my pocketbook.' And then it's, 'Oh, by the way, all of this results in a home that leaves a
smaller environmental footprint.'"

Bohling says she hadn't thought about recycling, energy conservation or using recycled
materials in her home before moving to Centerra. Now her carpet padding is recycled, she
has a mini water heater that quickly heats small amounts of water, rather than continually
heating a larger water tank, and her rooms automatically cool down when no one is home and
heat up in the evenings.

That doesn't mean everyone is willing to pay for environmentally friendly building materials for
the sake of the environment, and they may not have time to invest in researching the benefits,
says Ann Stringfellow, VP of ecology at McStain Neighborhoods.

"People assume that if they buy new homes, they'll get the latest in energy efficiency," she
says. "And, if the homeowner had all the time in the world, they'd probably look for that. We
try to think it through for them."

The homes in the 275-acre Centerra Village and High Plains Development are all 50 percent
more energy-efficient than typical homes. The community doesn't have a governing board —
it has a nonprofit environmental group that manages the wetlands area, parks, bat center and
an environmental learning center.

And a Target, Chili's and Outback Steakhouse located in the High Plains development each
ante up a buck per square foot to pay for it all. Homeowners pay 55 cents per square foot to
support the environmental end of the development. The businesses themselves are not green.

Calomino says it is important for homeowners to pay comparable prices for environmentally
friendly homes, because developers have found most homeowners won't pay more for those
features. However, she says it does add to the appeal of the home when presented as an
extra.

Centerra is a mixed-use community, which means there are homes for several income levels.
Condominiums average $115,000, town homes go for $140,000 and single-family homes
cost about $200,000. According to HomeRoute Real Estate Services, the median home price
in Loveland is $198,655.

Centerra homeowners say they are proud of their homes, but wouldn't have done it this way
themselves.

Eli Hopkins pushes his two daughters on a swing set, and explains that he moved to Centerra
from Greeley in December because he wanted to be near wildlife. He says he grew up in the
backwoods of Georgia and went through Boy Scout and 4-H programs, and he wants
something similar for his girls.

"It's so abundant here," he says. "I heard coyotes for several weeks. The environmental
aspect? I personally do appreciate that, but it's not a necessity. It's the icing on the cake."

And the recycled decks, wood and insulation? The solar panels installed in his roof? The milk-
based paints?

"There's no reason not to use that stuff," he says. "It's available, and it's cost-efficient, and
they make it that way."

They, or McStain Neighborhoods executives, also know the environmental aspects aren't high
on most of their buyers' lists. They're working to change that.

"If you use the word 'environmentalist,' most people will say they're not," says Waak of
Centerra's environmental center. "But there are 80 million people in the United States who are
feeding birds in their backyards. I wouldn't say we're pushy, but they know we're there. The
doors are constantly open."

She explains that many people have traditional, environmental values, but they tend to think
"granola" or "hippy" when they think environmentalist. But the homeowners go to sessions at
the environmental center that focus on exotic cranes of the world, or sculpting a bird of clay,
or making paper from recycled materials.

"When we fall in love with the place we're in, we will do things in our own lives to protect it,"
Waak says.

Stringfellow says most people have to be convinced to use environmentally friendly housing
options. They have to know it will save them money in the long run, it will be a quality
product, and it will not cost them more money initially than traditional materials.

For example, when McStain construction workers built a model environmental home in
Longmont in 1995, they used blown cellulose, which is made out of recycled paper, for
insulation. At the time, they had a hard time finding it, but it's a much better insulation,
Stringfellow says.

McStain also uses fluorescent lightbulbs because they save electricity costs and last longer
than traditional bulbs. And, they conserve energy.

Jennifer Rupp stands in the neighborhood park holding the leash of an impatient puppy as her
5-year-old son Adam, armed with training wheels and a helmet, pedals his bicycle around the
sidewalk. She moved to Centerra from Chicago in December. The Rupp's did not move to
Centerra for the environmental aspects or the benefits of their green home — they liked how
the neighborhood feels.

But she says she's learning more about being environmentally aware in all aspects of her life.

"For me, it's just motivating," she says. "I've changed the way I feed my family and think about
health. We eat a lot more fresh vegetables."

When Stringfellow hears about that, her voice goes up an octave.

"It just tickles my heart to hear that because we want people to feel like the house, the home
and the environment are integrated," she says. "Yes, we are an urban population, but we are
thinking about our habitat. The environment isn't something you drive to."